This month, the Conservative Party of Canada will choose its next leader. We’ve surely seen enough in the past few months to have formed opinions — not necessarily on who should win, but on where we think the Tory party is going. And remember that democracy is about more than taking sides with one cause; it is about taking sides with the greater challenge of informed debate and intelligent discourse. Without that, the very underpinnings of our system begin to slide into the dictatorial mud.
This current debate is hardly the high point of Conservative discussion, as many of the party’s stalwarts have publicly acknowledged. Former prime minister Stephen Harper was coldly dogmatic for most of his time in office, but it was only at the end of his reign that he showed how deeply ideological his party had become. There would be, his people said, a tip line so that “barbaric cultural practices” could be reported. It was a crass attempt to play the Islam-hating card, and it’s to this country’s credit that it backfired.
But remember that the two people who announced this chat line of bigotry were Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch. Alexander has since apologized. Leitch also apologized, even cried on television as she did so, and promptly built a campaign around the questionable idea of testing potential immigrants on their “Canadian values.”
Far less popular are Brad Trost, Pierre Lemieux and Andrew Scheer. The major challenge for these three is that they are all Christian conservatives, and that constituency, though vocal and active, is relatively small. Michael Chong is probably the most liberal of the contenders; Maxime Bernier is considered one of the front-runners; and Erin O’Toole and Lisa Raitt certainly have followings.
But the problem is less the personalities involved than the fact that the entire debate has been shamed by the implied racism and xenophobia of some of the loudest of the bunch. In many ways, actual ideas have been jettisoned, replaced by sweeping and nasty attitudes. We saw this at the recent Manning Centre Conference, very much the Tory party in thoughtful mode, when various speakers made outrageous comments about Canadian life and politics that simply wouldn’t have been tolerated within the party in years past.
Some of Canada’s most compassionate politicians have been Tories — Joe Clark, Peter Lougheed and Flora MacDonald, to name a few. But today’s crop of leadership hopefuls leaves much to be desired. Even more embarrassing, many in the contest boast Christian values. Really? I am looking hard, but, forgive me, I simply don’t see them.